When beginning a career in comedy the question most often asked is, “How do you write a joke?” It varies of course. There are comics who tell stories, there are comics who use one-liners, and then there are comics who are more abstract. But jokes, no matter what form, usually consist of a premise and a punchline. For Teresa and Doug Wyckoff of The He & She Show, the premise is the two of them and the punchline is marriage. The Wyckoffs will be performing their new show at The Cell (700 First Street NW) on Friday, July 25.
“We were dating, as comedians, in Maui, and we found that over time a lot of our jokes were about each other, our relationship and relationships in general,” says Teresa. “So we decided to combine our comedic superish powers and do a relationship-themed show.” The Wyckoffs got hitched recently, and so their new show explores the shift between dating and marriage. During the show they solicit marriage advice from the audience. Thus, part of the show is stand-up and the other half is improv.
Some advice is crazy, some is incredibly dirty, and some is just a desperate question on how to make it all work. They never know what they’ll get and that’s part of the fun of it, but “even the worst advice can be funny and we reserve the right to make fun of any advice we receive,” says Teresa [Wyckoff].
“We take marriage advice from the audience. It's interesting, because every city ends up having their own 'theme' of common streams of marriage advice. Sometimes one town is naughtier than another,” says Teresa. Some advice is crazy, some is incredibly dirty, and some is just a desperate question on how to make it all work. They never know what they’ll get and that’s part of the fun of it, but “even the worst advice can be funny and we reserve the right to make fun of any advice we receive,” says Teresa.
Having only been married for a year, the Wyckoffs are calling this their Newlywed Tour. The tour marks a huge change in their lives—marriage and moving from one coast to the other. Originally from Oregon, “We [sold] all our belongings—well, what doesn't fit into a small Toyota—and got rid of our house and most of our trappings. After we hit all 50 states we will then move to NYC to pursue comedy there,” says Teresa.
But besides delving into their life changes the Wyckoffs have nobler goals. “If [the audience] relates to our struggles in marriage and relationships, and sees us laugh at those issues,” says Teresa, “maybe that can help them laugh at theirs also and realize we're all in this together.” Local comedian, husband and father to three children, Eddie Stephens, will join the Wyckoffs as they joke about the difficulties and joys of marriage. As we all know, relationships are hard. Like anything in life that’s worth it, relationships take a lot of effort and sometimes they become tense but, as Teresa says, “Laughter tends to suck all of the tension out of any situation.”
Genevieve Mueller is a writer and comedian. She performs all over the country and runs two monthly shows in Albuquerque: Comedians Power Hour and the Bad Penguin Comedy Show at The Box. More at genevievemuellercomedy.com or on Twitter: @fromthefloorup.
Andy Kindler has his doubts about your Twitter stardom.
Twitter, Vine and YouTube have made people a lot of money. Comics take advantage of these digital platforms for their work and, for many, careers in comedy have been launched. However, “A 300,000 Twitter following isn’t going to make you a good stand-up,” says Andy Kindler. The comic, who regularly plays himself on IFC’s “Maron,” insists on the necessity for performance in comedy.
With the advent of social media, Twitter especially, comics can spread their written material far and wide. They frequently get immediate results, and some of the lucky ones are offered jobs based on their writing.
This is vastly different from being vetted in comedy clubs by live audiences and comedy peers. “You may have a funny Twitter feed, but that doesn’t mean you have an hour’s worth of material you can perform,” says Kindler. “The fact that you could be famous fast is appealing, and sometimes ambition outsteps where [new comics] are at artistically.”
It’s not the technology but the instant gratification it offers. At times this may give a person too much confidence in their comedy abilities. Can someone suffer from too much confidence? Definitely—and it ruins the performance.
Comics who perform receive instant and often stinging feedback from audiences, booking agents and club owners. “I don’t believe in a hierarchy in comedy. I was treated really badly by the people who were the powers that be. I hate that part. The first day you do comedy you should be respected. But,” he says, “that doesn’t mean you have to be hilarious the first time. The more you do it the more you can repeat it successfully.” Standup is hard and, as Kindler notes, can really only be perfected through constant performance.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that technology is negatively affecting comedy. But Kindler makes a valid point that some people erroneously call themselves stand-ups. Comedy writing is important—but standup isn’t just about the writing. It’s a performance, and either people are going to laugh or they aren’t. Comics have to be prepared for that. “What I definitely love about comedy is that it is egalitarian.” Unfortunately, Kindler notices, “a lot of people are narcissists. There’s no desire to become better through a trial by fire in a comedy club.”
A master at self-deprecating comedy himself, Kindler says, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. I love doing comedy because of the self-deprecation.” That’s where the crux of the matter is. It’s not the technology but the instant gratification it offers. At times this may give a person too much confidence in their comedy abilities. Can someone suffer from too much confidence? Definitely—and it ruins the performance.
Kindler does not suffer fools and is known for his harsh critiques of the comedy world in his annual State of the Industry address at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. He describes his audience as “people who are aware of the bullshit of society.” He’s often the focus of his own jokes and engages the audience in authentic personal ways. He says, “I want people to realize that standup isn’t just a presentational thing, but you’re entering a person’s mind.” Kindler headlines the Sexpot Comedy Show at The Oriental (4335 West Forty Fourth Street) on Friday, May 30, in Denver.
Genevieve Mueller is a writer and comedian. She performs all over the country and runs three monthly shows in Albuquerque: Comedians Power Hour, Proof and Process at La Tortuga Gallery and the Bad Penguin Comedy Show at ArtBar. More at genevievemuellercomedy.com or on Twitter: @fromthefloorup.
When a female comic performs she is breaking gender norms. Her mere presence onstage asks the audience to do away with stereotypical binaries of male strength and female weakness. Thirty years ago, Judy Tentua—who’ll be performing in Albuquerque at Embassy Suites (1000 Woodward NE) on May 9—was pioneering a new kind of female comic. Part of a new wave of female comics that didn’t just implicitly break stereotypes by purely existing, she aggressively delved into taboo topics of sex and feminism.
In the late ’80s, Tenuta was a consumable and mildly mainstream, friendly version of the sex-positive feminist revolution. She was mainstream enough to score a Dr. Pepper ad campaign but still revolutionary with her brass attitude and absurd, erotic performances. Her slightly ironic self-proclaimed titles of “Love Goddess” and “Aphrodite of the Accordion” heightened her onstage character. Tentua had sass. She adorned herself with flowing dresses in a classic Greek style to accentuate her role as goddess. Fluctuating the pitch of her voice up and down octaves, Tenuta would regularly declare the audience her sex slaves, calling them “stud puppets” and “pigs.”
Tenuta toured regularly with the legendary and oftentimes controversial George Carlin. Unlike Paula Poundstone and Rita Rudner, both very successful comedians of the same era, Tenuta didn’t confine herself to observational humor and puns. At this time, the US was arguing about the public persona of the female, which of course included sexuality, and here was Tenuta amidst it all talking about her IUD. When Tenuta went on stage and publically expressed her sexuality, it was rebellious and groundbreaking. Tenuta’s work remains relevant because women comedians who have the gall to be openly sexual, like Amy Shumer for example, are still shamed in some ways. Female comics today owe her some gratitude.
Genevieve Mueller is a writer and comedian living in Albuquerque. She performs all over the country and runs two monthly shows sin Albuquerque: Comedians Power Hour and The Comedy Storytelling Show at La Tortuga Gallery. More information can be found at genevievemuellercomedy.com or on Twitter: @fromthefloorup.
The draw to comedy is strong. It angers us, offends us, heals us and for some of us, it defines an entire life. Psychology professor Peter McGraw and journalist Joel Warner study comedy extensively in their new book, The Humor Code. These two men are profoundly drawn to comedy and travel the world to try to understand it at a deeply human level.
In the Humor Research Lab—or HuRL—in Boulder, Colorado, McGraw developed a concept about comedy he calls the Benign-Violation Theory. “Humor only occurs,” according to his and Warner’s explanation in The Humor Code, “when something seems wrong, unsettling or threatening (i.e., a violation), but simultaneously seems okay, acceptable, or safe (i.e., benign).” They use various jokes to exemplify their theory—such as, “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Because it was dead.” A monkey falling out of a tree seems to be benign but it turns into a joke when it is revealed that the monkey is dead, a very clear violation.
In the book, McGraw and Warner travel the world testing this theory and asking questions about what makes something funny. This all began with McGraw wanting to try comedy for the sake of science, “so I took him to the Squire,” says Warner. The open mic at the Squire in Denver is notorious for being the most difficult in the country. Or as Warren explains in The Humor Code, “As a local comic put it to me, ‘If you fail at the Squire, not only will you fail hard, but then you will be cruelly mocked.’” As expected, McGraw failed horribly. So badly, in fact, that not only did he break the mic, but after his set the host of the show said, “That’s a sweater vest he’s wearing, not a bulletproof vest. So go ahead and shoot him.” This failure bothered McGraw. He had applied his theory to create jokes and yet he wasn’t able to secure laughs—and so began his quest with Warner to test his theory further and perfect his execution of it.
The Humor Code
“The conversations are broader out in the real world,” says McGraw. “Academics are interested in minutiae. But comics are interested in the big questions like: What does it mean for something to be too soon? I got a lot of inspiration from those kinds of conversations.” The structure of the book reflects the kind of conversations McGraw and Warner were having on their travels. “Each chapter deals with a specific question,” says Warner. “Who is funny? How do you make funny? Can you find humor where you least expect it?” Through this process his questions about comedy deepened. Although McGraw still focused on his B/V theory, in this book it becomes much more of a way to look at how to frame discussions about comedy than a prescriptive or formulaic way to construct humor.
Joel Warner and Dr. Peter McGraw in Osaka, Japan
Like any good theory it is still under debate and testable, but B/V does seem to hold up in various contexts while providing a nice framework to ask those deeper, broader questions. In The Humor Code, the theory’s application around the world isn’t what’s most interesting or valuable. What makes this book fascinating are the moments we see McGraw on stage working through his material and creating comedy—whether he’s failing at an open mic in Denver or getting laughs from a major comedy crowd at the Just for Laughs fest in Montreal, which he just so happened to work his way into even though he had only done comedy once before.
Comics ask themselves, “Who the hell do I think I am, trying to make people laugh?” They often debate vigorously about what is and isn’t funny. They defend their stances or shift their thinking about comedy. The feelings and philosophies comics have about comedy are based on acutely visceral reactions to being on stage. McGraw took to the stage, tried comedy and used himself as a case study. That alone was a bold and noble move toward finding and defining what makes humans laugh.
Genevieve Mueller is a writer and comedian living in Albuquerque. She performs all over the country and runs two monthly shows in Albuquerque: Comedians Power Hour and The Comedy Storytelling Show at La Tortuga Gallery. More information can be found at genevievemuellercomedy.com or on Twitter: @fromthefloorup.
Everyone knows comics are an anxious, fearful bunch. In fact, a recent article on The Independent’s website claimed to prove the link between comics, anxiety and mental illness. It of course immediately went viral in the comedy community as comedians took a sort of pride in finally being diagnosed. Accepting this trait in comics and talking about it on and off stage lends a sort of credibility to comedians. The question is, at what point is it self-destructive to buy into the idea that psychosis is synonymous to comedy?
Self-proclaimed nervous guy Dave Ross, a standup comedian from LA, wonders about this same thing. Ross is about to go on tour and confesses, “There are a few shows I’m worried might be like the one in Blues Brothers where there’s chicken wire and people are yelling ‘You’re a pussy,’ and every time I tell a story they’re like ‘Fuck you’ and they try to kill me. But I’m stoked for all the shows really.” Ross, who will be at ArtBar (119 Gold SW) on Tuesday, April 8, delves into the psychotic proclivity of comics in his standup and his podcast “Terrified.”
In many ways, this is the impetus for people to do comedy, because being a comic is a great way to find power in your weaknesses, fears and anxiety. “I think everyone is afraid, but I think a lot of people aren’t honest with themselves and the people around them about their fears,” says Ross. “And I think that’s because the world, and more specifically America, has drilled it into our heads that it’s not ok to be afraid of things.” In his podcast “Terrified” he covers this subject extensively. Analyzing fear and “air[ing] it out takes the power away,” says Ross.
However, Ross agrees that obsessing about fears is also a good way to foster those weaknesses in an unhealthy way. “I talk about anxiety less and less on stage because at a certain point it doesn’t help,” says Ross, “If you’re just talking about it over and over and harping on it and you’re still anxious after years of talking about it and you’re not getting better, then what’s the point?” Perhaps it’s not that comics are more inclined to have anxiety, but that we’re more inclined to be truthful about it. And then we either self-implode or heal, either harp on it or work through it in five-minute increments onstage in front of strangers. I think ultimately that’s the connection between mental illness and comedy: unabashed and unapologetic truthfulness.
Watching a comedian move seamlessly between pre-written material and off the cuff banter with the audience while maintaining control of the show, making everyone laugh and improvising most of their set—well, it’s sort of like seeing a unicorn. There’s a very distinct possibility that Paula Poundstone is a unicorn. The comedian is known for her impeccable crowd work, which I witnessed when I first saw her perform in the 1987 TV special “Women of the Night” with Ellen DeGeneres and Rita Rudner. The way she incorporated the audience into her act changed the way I saw stand-up comedy. She provokes the audience with adamant personal questions, mocking their responses, but in a playful and free manner that never quite seems confrontational. With a new CD out called I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them In Boston, Poundstone can be heard on NPR’s “Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!” See her live at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco) in Santa Fe tomorrow evening at 7:30, and witness as she guides the audience through a series of quick comebacks and witty one-liners. Tickets run between $27.50 and $35. Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe • Fri Dec 13 • 7:30pm • $27.50-$35 • 21+ • View on Alibi calendar
Winning photo by UNM art education graduate student Junfu Han
An older Latina woman stands clutching a telephone pole painted with colors of the American flag in a border town of the Southwestern United States. She’s expressionless except for a squinting of her dark eyes during the midday sun. Her gaze is slightly off camera and a silver cross is half hidden under her blouse. Her left wrist is bandaged, yet she doesn’t seem broken. Rather, she's solid and stoic with an unassuming strength. The author of this photograph is Junfu Han, a UNM Art Education graduate student and the winner of the 1st Annual International Education Week photo contest.
During the week of Nov. 11, UNM’s Global Education Office hosted International Education Week, and unlike previous years, this year’s event included the photo contest. The week focuses on the benefits of studying abroad and celebrates the diversity of UNM students. Photographers entered the contest, whose theme was “International Experiences,” with portraits, landscapes, architecture, street photography, abstract or experimental pictures. Han’s striking composition of the Latina woman in the Chihuahuita community in El Paso, TX was declared the winner with its portrayal of American mythos and Mexican experiences on the border.
A few months ago, I wrote about Denver’s successful High Plains Comedy Festival, which spotlighted such high profile alt-comics as Reggie Watts and Kurt Braunohler. Denver, just a few hours up I-25, is becoming a major port of comedy—and with its success, Albuquerque’s comedy scene grows, too.
Producer and comic Dawn Schary recently created Carpe Diem Comedy, a standup show at Imbibe (3101 Central NE) every first Thursday. It’s the only monthly show in the Nob Hill area and is already bringing in high quality talent from the burgeoning Denver scene. Schary’s stage persona is foul-mouthed and often brutally honest, but as her day-to-day self, the comic cheerfully explains, “My vision is to connect nearby comedy scenes, and to make ABQ an obvious place to hit on a young comic's tour.”
photo by Crystal Allen
For this month’s show, comic Jordan Doll travels down from the Mile High city to riff on monsters, video games and wizards. On stage he skillfully tackles paranormal scenarios, a theme he carries into his comedy podcast “Werewolf Radar.”
Fellow Denver comic Nathan Lund, one-fourth of the comedy group Fine Gentleman’s Club, also takes the helm at Carpe Diem Comedy this month. Watching Lund onstage is like watching a very well-read mountain man expertly navigate a laser beam field—he weaves smartly through jokes about his weight, politics and passive-aggressive lovemaking skills.
Functioning as a bridge between ABQ and Denver comedy, the Nov. 7 Carpe Diem Comedy show is a blend of extremely absurd, silly and politically charged comedy. Show starts at 7pm and is absolutely and magically free.
Comedy superstar Reggie Watts can be a hard man to track down.
Noon the second day of the inaugural High Plains Comedy Festival and about 15 of us hungover comics piled into a party bus and headed to the mountains for a day of swimming at El Dorado springs. The bus filled with Colorado-legalized pot smoke, the Pabst Blue Ribbon flowed, and comic Kurt Braunohler sat in a sink just to catch a ride. As we made our way up the mountain, it occurred to me: The comedy scene in Denver is less a “scene” and more a constant party with amazingly funny people taking turns holding court.
Most festivals are run by comedy clubs, but High Plains, much like The Bridgetown Comedy Fest in Portland, was created by comics. Organized by Denver’s local and national headliner Adam Cayton-Holland and his business partner Andy Juett, it was not only an overwhelming success, but it highlighted the major talent coming out of Denver and brought in comedy legend Reggie Watts.
Watts drew me to the festival. He is a rare talent. His often absurd music illustrates his comedic wit and is embedded with politically and socially charged lyrics. He rarely passes through the Southwest, so when I heard he was the headliner of High Plains, I immediately set out to meet the comedy superstar. My mission and mantra for the festival became “Find Reggie Watts.”
My quest began Friday night at 3 Kings Tavern on Denver’s South Broadway, a divey bar full of that old beer-soaked wood smell. On the outside, it looked like just a bar on a strip of other bars, but that night it was host to national headlining comics such as Matt Braunger, Kyle Kinane and Cameron Esposito, who all performed on a small stage to a sold-out audience. The show that night at 3 Kings was incredible. Esposito was definitely a highlight with her insightful punchlines. Braunger hit hard, as well, and destroyed the audience with his rant about sipping Jägerbombs like an adult.
Watts’ “Fuck Shit Stack” is surprisingly cerebral but isn’t for the faint of heart.
As I made my way through the packed crowd searching for Watts, I came across quick-witted Esposito, whose recent advice to new male comics went viral. One piece of her wisdom was, “Dress to show off your penis. Or, if you don’t have the best penis, try to go for like a dick next door thing. Wear a hoodie on your penis, you know?” About the festival, she said, “I am so proud and appreciative of this. It’s hard to put on a comic-run festival because you have a job as a comic, and you’re probably broke, but for Andy [Juett] and Adam [Cayton-Holland] to bring in such quality people is great.” Watts never showed at 3 Kings, so I walked the few blocks north to Hi-Dive, another bar, and caught New York-based comic Sean Patton, whose sheer energy on stage made the crowd putty in his hands.
At Friday night’s end, I landed at the open bar after-party in the dark basement of a Buffalo Exchange. I had a few drinks and pondered riding the conveyor belt. As my arm reached to push the “on” button, the store manager quickly intervened and informed me, “It’s quite dangerous and not for recreational use.” Plan thwarted, I continued my search for Watts. So far he was a no-show at any of the venues.
On day two, the Gothic Theatre, an Old West-looking space with balcony seating, was sold out for back-to-back shows. The early show by the Grawlix company had a shirtless Cayton-Holland and Andrew Orvedahl stretch the stress of the festival away as Ben Roy did squats and tried to get the crowd to do synchronized crossfit. Their opening sketch as yoga enthusiasts killed the crowd and set the bar high for the night. Then came the second show and finally Reggie Watts. When host Chris Charpentier introduced him and Watts emerged, the audience went wild. His performance consisted of his absurdist musical comedy with heavy synth beats and improvised lyrics like “bleach is for bitches” followed by nonsensical gibberish that was funnier than most meticulously crafted one-liners. Note after note and beat box after beat box, the intensity of the crowd grew. At 20 minutes his show was surprisingly short, and yet Watts channeled the energy of the audience and triumphantly crushed the sold-out crowd.
When the show ended, I went to the after party at a local comic’s house. At about 1:15am, I saw him. Finally it had happened. I’d found Reggie Watts.There he was, a few feet from me, amongst the thick green vines of the lush Colorado backyard. I had so many things to ask him. What did he think about comic-run festivals? What advice could he give comics who want to improvise? Would he have ridden the conveyor belt? I started the conversation by saying that his show was great. He replied, “Thank you, it’s so great to be here amongst such love and great company.”
With his improvised songs, Watts doesn’t prefer preparation and instead relishes pure comedy “that forms organically.” He is a man of few words. His comedy presence may be boisterous and surreal, especially in music hits like “Fuck Shit Stack,” but he is kind, warm and slightly shy in person. His comedy comes from his need to do a social good and spread, as he says, “love and love.” Maybe it was my timing, maybe it was the booze, but just as I had started to talk to him about comedy, Reggie Watts slipped away.
It was exciting to watch greats like Watts on stage and briefly talk with him afterwards about his urge to do comedy, yet I think a part of me was looking for more than “love” as the catalyst for such a comedy legend. It makes me wonder what I found at High Plains. Was it Watts? Or was it a communion with like minds? While looking for Watts on this journey through the festival, I was witness to one reason why comedians do comedy. It’s because they can take anything, even a bus ride into the mountains or a backyard party, and make it an exciting adventure into the unknown, bolstered by a common goal to bring joy into the world. As Juett says, this fest “reaffirm[ed] that comedy as something to fight for is always, always worth it.”
I called comedian Kurt Braunohler right after one of our Albuquerque monsoons—a real gully washer. The cell reception was sketchy and my phone cut out. I called back and, for the rest of the interview, just to keep him on the line, I had to lean out the window, balancing my computer on my lap, all while under the disapproving glare of my neighbor. Braunohler’s comedy explores those awkward moments in our lives, so nearly falling from the second floor of my house while being silently judged was, in a way, a fitting interview format.
Braunohler, who will feature in Denver’s High Plains Comedy Festival next week, started his career in comedy after college when he took improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. During this time he met Kristen Schaal, the stalker lady from HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords,” and together they created the weekly live variety show “Hot Tub,” now based in L.A. Braunohler’s jokes are big—literally big. He recently raised $6,000 on Kickstarter to hire a skywriting plane to write “How Do I Land?” above Los Angeles.
Braunohler has done everything: improv, sketch and stand-up. Although he only started stand-up about five years ago, he says he prefers this medium of comedy because “it’s a high-stakes scenario…When doing improv, the audience is on your side. They want you to succeed. Even if the improv just barely works everyone is excited for you. But people have very strong opinions about what stand-up is and sometimes the crowd seems to say ‘prove to me that you’re funny.’” Braunohler says he likes this contention, these high stakes, because ultimately the goal of comedy is “to show a level of vulnerability that makes connections with the audience.” To do this, Braunohler says, “No topic can be off-limits, and you can’t be embarrassed about anything.” This sentiment is echoed in his stand-up. Braunohler’s comedy is at times surreal. In one Vine—the short looping video clips so beloved on Twitter—he places googly eyes on an ice cream cone and calls it his little buddy. At other times his work is more personal and reflective. He explores the absurdities of life on his new comedy album, How Do I Land?, released by the venerable indie music label Kill Rock Stars.
Braunohler is excited for next week’s High Plains festival, when comedians from all over the country will swarm Denver for the first major comedy fest in the region. The inaugural High Plains Comedy Festival is headlined by comic genius Reggie Watts, features the brilliant Braunohler and will be packed with Denver comics. Over the past few years, the Denver comedy scene has expanded and flourished, churning out such national headliners as Ben Kronberg and T.J. Miller. As the talent pool has grown, so has the focus on Denver as a key producer of comedy and, in turn, the Southwest as an emerging comedy region. “This is an experiment for Denver and I think anything could happen,” Braunohler reflects. “I can’t wait to see all the comics.”
Take the short trip to the Mile High city and see Watts, Braunohler and 40 other comedians at the High Plains Comedy Festival on Aug. 23 and 24. The Southwest is starting to make a name for itself in the comedy world, and this festival will highlight the area as a place that can bring in big names.